Monday, November 15, 2021

Seven Things to Know About George Sanders

1. In his autobiography Memoirs of a Professional Cad, George Sanders recalled his first film role in The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937) as one of the gods: "The part called for me to ride half-naked and shiny with grease, at four o'clock in the morning during one of England's coldest winters, on a horse which was also coated with grease. Torin Thatcher and Ivan Brandt were the other two greasy gods. Though I never fancied myself as a horseman, I was the only one of the three that didn't fall off. In that regard at least I was already a successful film actor."

2. George Sanders was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1906. His family moved to Great Britain in 1917. After studying at Brighton College and Manchester Technical College, Sanders worked in the textile industry and on a tobacco plantation in South America. On his return to Great Britain, he was working for Lever Brothers when his co-worker Greer Garson suggested he take up acting.

3. George Sanders was married four times. His second wife was Zsa Zsa Gabor (1949-54) and his fourth wife was Zsa Zsa's sister Magda Gabor (1970-71). That marriage only lasted for a month. In between, Sanders was married to actress Benita Hume, the widow of Ronald Colman, until her death in 1967. When asked about ex-husband Sanders, Zsa Zsa once said: "We were both in love with him. I fell out of love with him, but he didn't."

4. George Sanders played debonair detective Simon Templar in five films starting with The Saint Strikes Back in 1939. Sanders then transitioned to a similar "B" detective series in which he played another suave detective, Gay Lawrence aka The Falcon (loosely inspired by a Michael Arlen short story). By the time he had appeared in three Falcon movies, Sanders was in demand for "A" pictures. RKO wanted to continue The Falcon film series, so it made The Falcon's Brother (1942), in which Gay Lawrence is killed and his brother, Tom, takes over as The Falcon. The nifty part is that the role of Tom Lawrence was played by George Sander's real-life brother Tom Conway. He went on to star as The Falcon in nine more movies (see The Falcon and the Co-eds, easily the best in the series).

With Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson in Rebecca.
5. Although Sanders' breakthrough role was in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), as the adulterous title character's lover, his first starring role wasn't until 1942. He played a stockbroker-turned-painter in The Moon and Sixpence, which co-starred Herbert Marshall and Doris Dudley (who made only four films). Subsequent roles, though, often typecast him as a cad--such as the married children's book author who romances Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). He got another break in 1950 when he played a cynical theatre critic in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Although Jose Ferrer was originally considered for the part, it's hard to imagine anyone other than George Sanders as the velvet-voiced, part-time narrator who introduces himself so memorably: "To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, listen to unsponsored radio programs, or know anything of the world in which you live, it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre."

Elizabeth Taylor and George Sanders.
6. His Oscar win afforded him more choices in his next few roles. He got the opportunity to sing opposite Ethel Merman in Call Me Madam (1953). He played a well-written villain in love with Elizabeth Taylor's character in Ivanhoe (1952). He even hosted a short-lived, half-hour anthology TV series called The George Sanders Mystery Theatre in 1957 (also starring in one episode).

7. George Sanders was still acting at age 65 when he committed suicide in 1972. According to his New York Times obituary, he died of an overdose of sleeping pills and left the following note: "Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck." 


  1. He was ill and broke at his end. RKO switched to the Falcon from the Saint cuz Charteris wanted too much to renew. Tom Conway a warmer personality and better fit. Geo a great singer. Was to star in a musical of Man Who Came to Dinner but dropped out reportedly due to his wife's illness.

  2. My introduction to George Sanders was The Jungle Book. Later in life, I am proud to brag about my son's perfect Shere Khan impersonation.

    I adore having the opportunity to hear George sing and wish he had done more in film.

    Tom Conway is also very popular in our household. I will watch any of his Falcons at the drop of a hat. Again, my son does perfect Conway impersonations from Disney. The narration to open Peter Pan is a popular treat and sometimes the Collie from One Hundred and One Dalmatians ("Thought you'd been captured" is used when someone is away longer than expected. Works for pandemics.

  3. Love the post, and the knowledgeable comments. Sanders is one of my very favorite supporting actors. He did some starring roles, but I think he was always best in a Supporting role - at least in what are his most memorable films.

    I am a huge Ghost and Mrs. Muir fan (blogged about that film: and actually think his role as the "cad" as you say was crucial to the character development of Lucy Muir, who I say in my review was played with proto-feminist tartness by the late, great Gene Tierney.

  4. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the roles that stick out are Sanders playing a Nazi in "Man Hunt," and an exasperated murder suspect in "A Shot In The Dark." (His talent is mostly wasted in the latter role.)

    1. I'll add his part in "Village Of The Damned," where he does a good job despite seeming oddly out of place in the role.

  5. George Sanders is one of my all-time faves. No one can do smooth, urbane slimy-ness like he can.

    Love the quote from Zsa Zsa about both of them being in love with him.